4 out of 10


Test run for the holocaust

The Holocaust of the Armenians is second only to that of the Third Reich. After a series of incidents of local butchery, in 1915 a policy of sytematic genocide was introduced by the then Ottoman Empire in its provinces in Armenia, an ancient land founded by Alexander the Great in an area that now borders Iraq. Despite a valiant stand at Van, the slaughter was so bad that whilst everyone else was fleeing the last days of the collapsing Tsarist Russia and the worst excesses of the Bolshevik Revolution and civil war that followed, the Armenians were flooding across the border in the opposite direction..With modern day Turkey denying killing 1,500,000, it is not hard to guess the lack of concern earlier in the 20th Century and recorded comments by Hitler, including "Who remembers the extermination of the Armenians?" make it clear that it was his inspiration behind the Jewish Holocaust just over a couple of decades later.

How anyone making the only motion picture ever covering one of the most traunatic events of the 20th Century could mess it up defies description. Rather than just tell the story, director Atom Egoyan goes for a more obtuse angle. Presumably to pander to Yankie tastes, he creates a flick in the same style as "American Beauty" or "Magnolia" with a bunch of modern day messed up Canadian Armenians behaving continuously irrationally the way only Canucks can do. They wander about the screen with all sorts of trivial personal family problems. Instead, the massacre, drawn from the actual notes of a Yankie doctor who witnessed it, is clumsily retold using the device of a making "film-within-a-film" as in "Midsummer Nights Dream", but unlike Shakepeare, the complete absence of humour leaves the senses quickly dulled by flat drama.

At the centre of this mess is Ani, as usual played by the wife of the rampantly nepotistic director Atom Egoyan. A Canadian Armenian who lectures on art, she has been hired by the film company as a historical consultant, but as the tale spins off into the bizarre, the whole cast follows her lead in becoming obsessed with a bland daub by Ashile Gorky, a survivor of the massacre as she believes it represents the pain of her people. Meanwhile, as her head drifts in the clouds, her family plumbs the depths. With a first husband who was a terrorist, her disturbed son, Raffi, played by Brillopad lookalike David Alpay, clearly hasn't had sleep for a few hundred hours as he spends most of his spare time doing the traditional Canadian sport of shagging his typical French Canadian sister, Celia, a drugdealing fraudster who blames her for the myterious death of her father (Ani's second husband) who just suddenly fell off a cliff.

With the massacre still denied by the Turkish Government today, a common thread developed throughout the movie is the concept of belief. In a parallel to the refusal of people to believe the massacre of the Armenians is the question of whether Ani should be believed about her husband's death. Most extreme, however, is the dilemma of David, an aging customs official on the last day before his retirement. Faced with Raffi returning from Turkey with cans of film, he must decide whether to believe Raffi and let the cans pass unopened or beak the seals to inspect them which will ruin the undeveloped film. A plot device to represent a Joe Shmoe, knows not who to believe, Christopher Plummer's character is already struggling to cope with a son who is gay and represents the sole factor pinning this tripe to reality. Even so, it's sad to see such a one time great actor reduced to this. After a run of recent non-descript flicks, "Ararat" is just another bummer from Christopher Plummer.

Why this tripe was acclaimed is not hard to fathom out. Atom Egoyan is clearly trying to reach out to a North American audience with the brand leader of bigot-bashing with the supposed director of the film-within-the-film, Edward Saroyan even proclaiming, "How they deny that they hate us and still hate us even more?" True to most Canuk productions too, the whole flick is laden with long, meaningful pauses, dreary folk music and cheap platitudes, doled out like M&M's by Charles Asnavour, typecast as over-the-hill Saroyan, as he wanders around like a head waiter with chronic Alzheimers. With these credentials it certainly had some clout with the artsy folk and a big dose of T&A spices it up for rednecks every time they're dozing off, and it's ironocally left to long suffering Canadian star Bruce Greenwood, renown for his roles in sci-fi blockbusters like "The Core" and "I, Robot" (here playing Martin Harcourt, playing Dr Clarence Ussher) to have to remind us what the subject of the film is all about, just in case we had forgotten....just like the Turkish Government.

Plummer: "Their shit"

Film Critic: Robert L Thompsett